Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Their Footsteps

I posted this today at a blog that is written by a co-operative of writers. I discovered this Simple, Green, Frugal site while reading my friend Rhonda's blog. "We all have our own personal blogs but we have joined together with the hope of providing a helpful reference point for those living simply and sustainably."

My wife claims I was a farmer's wife in a previous life. I make artisan breads, I can or freeze everything I grow, I preserve four kinds of jams and jellies, I raise up baby chicks . . . and I love every minute of it.

It might be as mystical as a past life, or it may be as simple as following a trail.

My grandpa (Guy) was born in 1898 on a farm in Pennsylvania, USA. He was one of twelve boys. He decided early on that he wanted to build things, so he did. He worked on some pretty cool buildings in his day, from the tank plant in Warren, Michigan, during WW2 to Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. During the hardest days of the Great Depression, Guy never forgot his family, and never forgot his farming roots. He would take my 8-year-old father with him, drive out to a local pig farm, buy ten feeder pigs, load them into the trunk of his car, and drive all over Michigan dropping the pigs off at his brothers' farms. In exchange for Guy buying the piglets and grain, he would return later in the year and receive part of the harvest: corn for feeding his city flock of chickens, wheat for grinding into bread, and best of all, several hundred pounds of home grown pork. My father has lots of childhood memories of not only helping out with the butchering, but holding half a hog in the back seat of his dad's Buick all the way home.

My father (Lawrence) carried on the traditions of his father, except for the pigs. He also became a builder. He built department stores, shopping centers and factories all over the American Midwest. As he built stores, at home he built gardens. He was a master gardener and preserver. I have years of memories of my dad peeling and chopping, canning and freezing. Everything from tomatoes to green beans. If he picked it, he canned it. He even had a small flock of chickens, which he skillfully butchered himself. He would share his eggs, meat and vegetables with needy folks at church or in the neighborhood. At the age of 80, Lawrence is still tending a garden in northern Michigan, and among other good deeds, he gives ten bushels of apples each fall to a large family, who wouldn't get fruit otherwise.

The trail I follow is well-marked.

Even though I was mostly raised in cities, I have a strong and undeniable urge to grow my food and preserve it for winter months. Even though I am not a builder of structures, I am a builder of a different sort. (I help build kids in my third grade classroom.) My goals for this year on our small farm include: raising at least sixty meat birds (chickens and turkeys), maintaining a flock of thirty-five layers, and growing a large variety of fruits and vegetables on my five acres. But I hope to do more.

One of my nephews has four children and they have a standing order for ten meat birds whenever I get a batch of chicks. I hope to expand that to other family members. I also have over thirty customers for my farm-fresh eggs, (and I can't keep up with them presently). I am planning on raising twelve turkeys this year. I want to keep a cool-looking pair around to give the farm a "farmy" feeling, but will butcher out the rest to give to family members and friends for their Thanksgiving feast. I also want to give a few turkeys and chickens to some local families. We have a local food cupboard that allows folks in the area to come in and receive food and clothing at no charge, and I plan on furnishing it with as much as I can spare.

I am just getting started on the
farm and welcome any ideas you all may have on how to not just provide for my family, but also give to people who can use a little sharing in my local area.

What part do you play?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Variations in Green

Usually Ruth takes all of my photos, but today, I grabbed her camera and started snapping. I am grateful for her help in processing the photos and getting them ready for posting.

Name Me!

The above photo is of my Black Minorcan hen. She doesn't have a name. If you have a suggestion, please let me know and I will select it from all the entries I receive this week. If I have difficulty deciding, I will let you vote on it next week. This is a really nice hen. She is friendly, let's me pick her up, and best of all, lays a big white egg just about every day. She also has a man-sized comb and red hangy things! (commonly known as wattles, OK, that's not all that common of a word.)

This Week's Theme

I have been challenged to be a much better caretaker of everything around me, from my lovely wife and children, to the things I am accumulating, and to this great planet we live on.

One way I am working on taking care of my share is to produce food right here on our little farm. We have a vegetable garden in the works, and I plan on growing a nice variety of things to eat. If I can keep the wattles out of the raised beds, we should have some measure of success.

Another way is through the raising of hens for eggs, and meat birds for... meat. Earlier in the year I posted about Broody, my Partridge Cochin, and how she hatched out seven chicks in the dead of winter. A few weeks after that, I hatched out 22 "store bought" chicks for a science project at my school. This hatching out of chicks has got me thinking about how I can perpetuate a solid flock that can keep me and my friends in eggs, as well as produce enough meat so I don't ever buy chicken from the store. I wonder if it is possible to manage a flock that will hatch out enough quality chicks to keep the eggs and meat going, without ordering chicks from a hatchery? I am assuming that I will occasionally need to add a rooster to the mix who has good genetic stock to keep my layers of choice "happy." I like the idea that my hens can hatch out their own heirs, and that my flock can take on a life of its own.

These are the chicks Broody hatched out.
I still can't quite tell the hens from the roos.

"Hey Beverly, can you believe this spa? It's so filthy!"
"I know, sweetie, how can all this dirt make me feel so squeaky clean?"

This is a photo of Khan, the father of Broody's brood.

Our lights are going out in a few hours. I hope you all had, or will have, a chance to participate in Earth Hour. The only light I will leave on is the heat lamp for the chicks.

If you are growing vegetables, what are you looking forward to the most? I think I am looking forward to the whole process of gardening. The idea of starting my own seeds, using grow lights, building cold frames, raised beds and mini polytunnels, having a Three Sisters garden and eating veggies that are still warm from the sun are all contributing to me looking forward to spring more than I ever have.

Go Green!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Growing Up

On January 13, 2009, Broody, my Partridge Cochin hen, hatched out 7 chicks. Well, here they are at about ten weeks, getting all grown up. They moved in with the main flock and are merging quite well. They get a quick nip on the back if they hog the goodies, but generally they stick together and sleep in various places. One of them actually snuggles up with the mighty Khan each night.

Another group that I am watching grow up is my third grade class. I have included some of their poems, written after studying "Purple Cow" by Gelett Burgess.

"I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one"

Chickens and children are poetry in real life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hybrid Seeds or Heirloom Seeds?

There is a huge debate out there in the gardening world that swirls around seeds and their origins. As you can imagine, there are large groups of supporters on both sides of this argument, and I doubt if there is a clear winner. This is by no means a complete definition of either side of the seed argument, and I'm sure there are tons of details that can be added. Please add some!!

Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid seeds got their start in the 1920's by a man named Henry Wallace, a professor at the University of Iowa, who founded a seed company called The Hi-Bred Corn Company. This company later became Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company, a subsidiary of DuPont Chemical Company. Wallace wanted to help out with the food supply and had the idea to create a corn that would grow prolifically and provide an abundance of food for America and the world. It is interesting to note that Wallace later became the Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wallace became Vice President under Roosevelt from 1940-1944. Friends in high places? I digress...

Hybrid seeds are created by finding parent plants that have the desired traits for the hybrid seeds and then, they are matched to produce the seeds. Farmers were convinced to buy these seeds in order to produce higher yields, and they did. Before this new "technology" farmers would save enough seeds from their crops to replant their fields the next year. The new hybrids began a cycle forcing farmers to purchase new seeds each year, as they could no longer keep seeds due to the nature of the hybrids.

Not only were farmers buying hybrid seeds, but the nation's gardeners began doing likewise. These varieties were selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. One of the traits of hybrid seeds is they are "high response" seeds. They require a lot of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and a great deal of water to achieve their high yields. This is how the chemical companies got involved in the farmyard. If you'll recall, Wallace's seed company is now owned by DuPont Chemical. Another well-known chemical giant, Monsanto, the world's largest hybrid seed company, also is the creator and producer of Roundup, and is the leader in bovine growth hormones.

Heirloom Seeds
People who have a great interest in Heirloom seeds and their plants are attracted to them for many reasons. Some are interested in growing the same plants that were grown for hundreds of years. Some are attracted by the idea of being connected with their forefathers. While others believe that the Heirloom plants are simply natural and lend themselves to organic gardening much better than hybrids. Most of us believe they just taste better!!
Heirloom seeds are also known as "open pollinated" seeds. Unlike hybrids, which are pollinated mechanically and under tightly controlled conditions, heirloom plants produce seeds that mimic the parent plants. Gardeners save seeds from their best plants and store them for the next planting season. Heirloom plants tend to have much more flavor than hybrids, but often have irregular shapes, or don't transport as well. Producers of hybrids have discovered that it is far easier to breed plants for size and shape. Flavor is a mysterious thing! Another aspect of heirloom seeds is that they are dynamic. This means that the plants are able to adapt to their local environment, whereas hybrids are pretty much static.
I was recently reading a magazine called Heirloom Farm and came across an article about William Woys Weaver, author and seed collector. Weaver, an avid gardener, discovered a collection of seeds in baby food jars in his recently deceased grandfather's freezer. He learned that his grandfather collected seeds from his gardens and replanted them into next year's garden. Weaver donated some of these to the collection at Monticello, as well as several collection sites in Europe. Weaver has written a book called Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, and it is on my list of must-get books.
I am planning to grow mostly heirlooms this year and will change over completely next year. I have a gazillion sunflowers to plant, and they are all hybrids. I am going to try to plant some of their seeds and will let you know what develops!!
Farm Update:
Garden Site
This is a photo of the inner circle of the driveway, where I am planting the veg patch. It will be fenced to keep out critters, and I plan on building a series of raised beds. The soil is gravelly and sandy, and the raised beds will allow me to create nice soil on a much smaller and more controlled scale.

Chickens on a Sunny Day!
The Buff Cochin, (Bev), is leading the charge to find some good stuff to scratch around in.
The Great Escape
Steve McQueen would have been proud to see the chickens sprinting past the unsuspecting Bishop, (the barn cat). I kinda have the feeling that not much gets past her, including a group of loud and boisterous chickens heading to a dust bath!
I hope you are having a nice day!
It is somtimes easy to focus on negative things.
Ruth and I are focusing on positive thoughts.
(The photos in this post were taken by Ruth.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Chick's First Adventure

One of the students at my school took some of the chicks (from last week's post) home for the weekend and had a little fun. The results of that fun is the slide show below. This was actually a Powerpoint with lots of cool colors, but Powerpoint doesn't like Blogger very much.

The music is a song by my son Peter's band: Listen to Your Breaking Heart.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Stars Are Out

Five Days Old

Black Sex-Link Rooster

It is difficult for non-professional breeders of chickens to figure out the gender of chicks. I have heard of several ways to determine this, but unless you have been trained and do hundreds or thousands of "sexings" your success rate isn't going to be that great. One way that I was told to try is to take a chick that is 2-4 days old and hold it by the scruff of the neck (like a baby kitten) and let the bird dangle. Roosters supposedly spaz out with their feet and raise them up to try to push off your hand, while the hens just dangle there looking helpless. I tried this on the chicks I am going to describe below and it worked every time!
I chose three breeds and hatched them out at school. We had a four hour power outage at school one evening and I thought I would lose them all. However, I ended up with 22 chicks hatching out of 36 eggs. (8 Black Sex-Links, 7 Light Brahmas and 7 Rhode Island Reds)

Black Sex-Link Hen

The Black Sex-Links (BSL) are a cross-breed between a red rooster, usually a Rhode island Red or a New Hampshire, and a Barred Rock hen. The chicks hatch out black, but the males have a white spot on their heads. The hens will have a black head. (When I tried the procedure described above to determine their gender, the BSL roos spazzed and the hens dangled!) The BSL chicks are very active and when the hens are about four months old, they will begin laying nice, big brown eggs. The roosters are good meat birds. I ended up with 2 BSL hens and 6 BSL roosters.
Other names I have come across for the BSL breed include: Rock Reds and Black Stars.

Rhode Island Red and Light Brahma (five days old)

By the way, the chicks were the hit of the Science Fair at school last week! No big surprise. The bubble gum testing was pretty good too.